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Journalists, whistleblowers urge FG to promote press freedom for democracy to thrive

THE  Coalition for Whistleblowers Protection and Press Freedom (CWPPF), has decried the shrinking spaces of press freedom in Nigeria.

In a statement issued by the Coalition and obtained by The ICIR, it said the shrinking press freedom in the country is characterised by attacks on journalists and media institutions, urging the Federal Government to intervene and pursue justice for the press.

The group lamented the complicity of security agencies and judiciary in repressing press freedom which has encroached the democratic values and authority of the constitution.

“The judiciary has also been co-opted into this range of assaults, the punitive nature of which suggests a long-term sinister motive to suppress press freedom and critical journalism, hence the continuous lack of due process and respect for the constitution in reaction to the supposed grievances against the concerned journalists,” the statement read.

The civil society groups cited several examples of the culpability of security agencies in unprovoked attacks on media firms and journalists in the country.

“On the 18th of September 2019, the Lagos headquarters and offices of Sahara Reporters offices was invaded and cordoned off ostensibly on the account of the planned protest over the unjust incarceration of the founder, Omoyele Sowore.

“This means that journalists and other non-media staff of the organisation were barred from performing their legitimate duty,” it said.

Officials of the Federal Government, the Coalition said, were also culpable of infringements on the fundamental human rights of members of the “fourth estate of the realm”.

It cited instances where Femi Adeshina, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, issued a verbal threat against a statehouse reporter, John Ameh,who reports for the Punch Newspapers.

“Mary Ekere, a journalist working with The Post, a local news outfit was arrested on the 16th September 2019 on allegations that she was taking pictures of officials of the Akwa Ibom government task force who were conducting a raid on a recreational spot in Uyo,” it added.

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“Ekere was arrested before she was released subsequently after two nights in jail, prompted by press freedom stakeholders in the state. Though, the charges brought against her have been dropped.

“Another journalist Agba Jalingo, Publisher of Cross River Watch, who was initially hounded for criticising the state governor was arrested and slammed with terrorism charges under which he is now being held, while his health deteriorates.

“Thus, since his arrest on August 26, 2019, he has been charged with a potpourri of offences including, “acts of treason, treasonable felony, and threatening through various publications on crossriverwatch.com and social media, using malicious publications, and instigating the people of Nigeria to stage protest for the removal of the Governor of Cross River State”.

“His case is an example of abuse of laws using trumped-up criminal offences to suppress the press for holding the government accountable,” the statement reads.

Tony Okafor, a Punch correspondent was harassed by operatives of the Nigerian Police over the newspaper’s reports on a suspended senior lecturer of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Dr Peter Ekemezie, it added.

The group stated that the attacks occurred in the month of September while Press Attack Tracker,  a mobile platform that keeps attacks on journalists listed 70 attacks on the media in 2019 alone.

“It means an average of two journalists have experienced some form of attack every week since January 2019. This figure is baffling and highly reprehensible and it would come as no surprise at all if Nigeria falls even further down in the  Press Freedom Index for 2019,” the group affirmed.

“If anything, the state of Press Freedom is indicative of a country walking backwards and dancing dangerously on the precipice of a dictatorship with zero tolerance for dissent.

“We appeal to members of the National Assembly to undertake a review of press laws in Nigeria and amend or outrightly repeal those that are anti-press freedom while constituting relics of the military era,” the statement said.

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